For decades, the wail of the nuclear bomb warning siren was ubiquitous in U.S. cities. Public service commercials drilled the “duck and cover” mantra into the minds of Americans, and the possibility of a Soviet attack was always around the corner.

But after the Cold War, most places abandoned their sirens. Fears of terrorism grew more urgent and, for many younger Americans, being on notice for nuclear war became a relic of the past.

That’s no longer the case in Hawaii.

Amid increasing North Korean threats against the U.S., Hawaii has launched the most aggressive effort in the country to prepare for attack. TV commercials warn the state’s 1.4 million residents to “get inside, stay inside” if a bomb drops. State officials are holding online forums and flying between islands for town halls to field questions from residents.

On Dec. 1, the nuclear attack warning siren will be heard in the state for the first time in more than three decades.

A North Korean bomb is “a major, major concern,” Vern Miyagi, the administrator of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said recently during a seminar he held for residents in a packed meeting room at the state’s Department of Defense offices in Honolulu. He painted a stark picture of what emergency officials expect if a nuclear missile was to reach Oahu.

“We are talking about 50,000 to 120,000 trauma and burn causalities together with nearly 18,000 fatalities,” Miyagi, the state’s chief expert on natural disasters and the North Korean threat, explained. The expected target: Pearl Harbor.

More accustomed to educating residents about hurricanes and tsunamis than atomic and hydrogen bombs, Miyagi displayed slides illustrating potential impact to the island from a 100-kiloton nuclear bomb detonated 1,000 feet above Honolulu. The explosion would hit an area about eight miles in diameter, he said. Ninety percent of people would survive the direct impact but could be hit by nuclear fallout and would have to navigate a crippled island.

“We anticipate severe damage to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, Hickam Air Force Base and Honolulu Harbor and Pearl Harbor. There will be widespread structural fires and building collapses. There will be damage to hospitals and government buildings,” Miyagi warned. He left open the possibility that other islands could be hit. Continue reading.